Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Pattern matching and sentience

We are pattern matching machines, like all creatures that hunt or evade. That's a big group. In fact, I can't think of a creature that doesn't engage in one of those two activities. Even a significant number of plants hunt or evade, and while those behaviors are simplistic and devoid of neural activity, they still involve pattern matching at the chemical level.

So, the activity is out there, and it's a major part of the business of being alive. We humans are exceptionally adept pattern matchers. We love the activity. When you look at stars and see the shapes of animals or Greek gods, you're engaged in pattern matching, and your appreciation of art and music are based on it as well.

As sentient creatures, we are isolated, having little or no contact with similarly gifted creatures as we poke about our planet and the surrounding area. Sure, there are gorillas that can use sign language and some other mammals may approach self awareness, but those cases are not clear cut. The isolation we therefore suffer makes it easy for us to distort our perception of ourselves until we think pattern matching is a sentient only behavior. We need to be mindful of this mistake, as it only strengthens the gulf we already feel between ourselves and the rest of nature, and reinforces our overall smug attitude as a species.